Skip to main content

Full text of "Mission Hill"

See other formats


Copy 2 

Mission Hill 



-wi' i' -i mm' tm 




Henry Adams, the nineteenth d 
tury philosopher, said that the hij 
of America is not the history of tl 
few, but the history of the many, 
people of Boston's neighborhoods 
accepted the challenge of Adam': 
statement to produce "people's h 
tories" of their own communities, 
Hundreds of Bostonians formed ( 
mittees in each of fifteen neighbor 
of the city, volunteering their tim< 
the past year and a half to reseai 
in libraries, search for photograp 
produce questionnaires, transcrih 
tapes, assist in writing and editin 
most important, act as interview! 
and subjects of "oral history" restj 
These booklets are not tradition* 
textbook histories, and we have n 
tempted to cull a statistical samp 
We have simply talked with our 
neighbors, people who remembei 
sometimes with fondness, sometii 
with regret, but always with wis< J 
For each of us has his or her owi s 
story to tell, and these stories an 
to the development of our neigh 
hoods and our city. 

© 1976, The Boston 200 Corpon 
Boston 200 is the city's official progrt 
to observe the Bicentennial of the 
American Revolution from April 
through December igj6. 

Kevin H. White, Mayor 
Katharine D. Kane, 

President, The Boston 200 Corpora, 
1 Beacon Street 
Boston, Massachusetts 02108 

it rJ I 


Ljeo Power was born on Parker Hill in the north- 
rn tip of Roxbury in 1898, the son of Canadian-Irish 
nmigrants. Seventy-seven years later he still lives in 
le neighborhood. During his lifetime, this small dis- 
ict of Boston has changed from a closely knit Irish 
immunity built around the Mission Church to a het- 
"ogeneous neighborhood which is fighting for its sur- 
ival against transiency and expansion by some of the 
rgest medical and educational institutions in Boston. 
Leo Power's life is representative of the experiences 
F many long-time residents of the Hill; through his 
ory, it is possible to trace the evolution of the parish, 
his neighborhood, which became known as Mission 
ill in the 1920s when the Mission Church High 
:hool athletic teams spread the name across the city, 
ill offers its inhabitants a weave of social relationships 
w city communities can match. 
Leo's parents, Michael and Julia Power, left St. 
ihn's, New Brunswick, for Boston in the early 1870s, 
ading the farms and the fishing for a city where 
ichael could use his skills as a blacksmith. The 
>wers were among the first Irish on Parker Hill, ar- 
/ing shortly after Roxbury annexed itself to Boston 
1867. Several Yankee-owned estates dating from the 

colonial era still covered the slopes of Parker Hill, giv- 
ing it a rural flavor despite the German families which 
had recently clustered around the base of the Hill to 
work in the many breweries there. 

Parker Hill had attracted prosperous settlers 
throughout colonial times because it offered a unique 
view of Boston and the surrounding countryside. When 
people first inhabited the area, it was a peninsula bor- 
dered by the Muddy River, the Back Bay, and Stony 
Brook. As late as the 1820s, according to Francis 

Roxbury was a suburban village with a single narrow street, 
and dotted with farms, many of which still remained in the 
hands of descendants of their original proprietors. The town 
was concentrated in Roxbury Street, all the rest was country. 

In the late 1860s Boston extended street railway ser- 
vice and sewerage systems to Roxbury, and the Irish 
working class poured into undeveloped suburban areas 
like Parker Hill. 

In 1869 the Catholic Redemptorist Fathers ac- 
quired the old Brinley house and estate, five acres of 
land along Tremont Street on Parker Hill. There they 
founded a mission church and dedicated a shrine to 
Our Lady of Perpetual Help; the Brinley home served 

iont cover: Horse drawn trolley in front of Mission Church, Tremont Street i8go 
side cover. - The baseball team lighting vigil candles, c.igjo 


as the rectory until its demolition in 1902. In 1871 the 
priests offered their first Masses and conducted remark- 
ably successful missions which attracted huge numbers 
of worshippers to the church. The Powers attended 
these Masses along with their newly arrived Irish 
neighbors, and Julia Power sang in the choir of the 
small frame church. 

In 1877, the Powers had their first child, Joseph. 
They had thirteen children in all, seven boys and six 
girls. They moved frequently, in search of larger quar- 
ters, but always stayed near the Mission Church. 
Michael found work in some of the biggest steel shops 
around greater Boston. All seven boys became iron- 
workers, although one was eventually ordained a 
priest. Joseph worked for the Boston Elevated Railway 
and was the assistant superintendent on the construc- 
tion of the Washington Street El in 1890. 

As the Power family grew, so did the Catholic pc 
lation of Parker Hill. Low-cost frame houses were L 


by speculators along the slopes of the Hill, especi , 
during the 1885- 1895 building boom. A stone chv ' 
accommodating 4,000 worshipers replaced the orig 111 
wooden building of the Mission Church in 1878, ' 
five years later the Diocese created a parish around ' f 
church to minister to the burgeoning Catholic pop" 
tion. A church grammar school, staffed by the Scl iel 
Sisters of Notre Dame, opened its doors in 1899, , 
within a decade, 2,000 children from the Mission 1 Sl< 
ish were students there. 

When Leo Power, the twelfth of the Power childn 1 
was born on Oswald Street in 1898, Parker Hill w. in 
homogeneous Irish Catholic community which loo ^ 
to the Mission Church for guidance. Triple-dec Sl 
houses had been built about three-quarters of the \ P 

arker Hill to Hillside Street, and as far west as 
Street. Above Hillside Street was a cow farm and 
ire, a reservoir, and a small building which since 
had housed the New England Baptist Hospital, 
e were some houses on Wait Street and a few more 
e far end of the Hill near Parker Hill Avenue, but 
stween was Gray's field, an orchard filled with 
trees and apple trees, which ran all the way from 
de Street down to Huntington Avenue. An old 
iial house had been torn down, leaving only its 
lation. At the corner of Huntington Avenue and 
met Street was a big brownstone wall with a high 
ay gate. Behind it was the old Huntington Estate, 
south side of the Hill, from Fisher Avenue down, 
)art of the Blessed Sacrament Parish which had 

separated from the Mission Church Parish in 1892, and 
extended to Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. The first 
houses appeared there between 1892 and 1905. In the 
teens there were more than 120 houses on Bickford and 
Fisher avenues, Wensley, Bucknam, Lawn, Estey, and 
Ellingwood streets. The Resthaven Nursing Home, a 
black-owned facility, located itself along Fisher Ave- 
nue in 1920. 

Across Huntington Avenue were open fields where 
the circus kept its horses when it came to Boston each 
year. Most of the streets throughout the neighborhood 
were unpaved. Sidewalks, where they existed, were 
made of two two- by-ten foot wooden planks which pro- 
tected pedestrians from mud and manure. 

Leo's childhood was full of sports and games and the 


Band in the garden behind Mission Churc, 

fields on the Hill were his playgrounds. Here he and his 
friends played baseball and football, tag, rush, and re- 
leavo. Running was popular and the children of the 
neighborhood gradually filled in the foundation of the 
old house and used it as a racetrack. 

After 1 910, the fields on the Hill gradually disaj^ 
peared in the wake of another building boom, durin 
which new houses and more hospitals were construe 
ted. The Huntington Estate and Gray's field were cov 
ered with more tightly packed three-deckers. A tube) 


ulosis hospital was built adjacent to the reservoir on 
)p of the Hill in 1908. In 19 14 the reservoir was 
rained and the construction of the Robert Breck 
righam Hospital started. Leo and his friends began to 
'ander over to the Brookline Avenue and Columbus 
.venue playgrounds for recreation. 

But the Mission Church was the heart of the com- 
lunity when Leo was young, and provided compre- 
ensive religious, educational, and social activities for 
11 members of the parish throughout their lives. Mas- 
:s were heavily attended; they began at five in the 
lorning and continued until noontime, following one 
fter the other on the hour, each one packed. Leo went 
> Mass two or three times each week, often with his 
ass at the Mission Grammar School. 

St. Alphonsus Hall was built by the church in 1900 
nd became the headquarters for the multitude of ac- 
vities sponsored by the St. Alphonsus Association, a 
len's athletic club whose membership numbered up- 
ards of 1 ,300. Besides using the gymnasium and bowl- 
ig facilities, members of the Association organized lec- 
ires, card games, pool and billiards tournaments, an 
chestra, mandolin and glee clubs, and a dramatic 
ub. Athletic teams for football, basketball, track and 
lell-racing competed in Catholic leagues throughout 
ew England. 

Upstairs in St. Alphonsus Hall a huge theater, seat- 
g 1,142 people, housed the flourishing theatrical acti- 
ties of the parish. Pilate's Daughter, a popular Lenten 
ama written by one of the Mission priests in 1901, 
is performed there every spring for over 60 years to 
tanding-room-only" audiences from all over New 
lgland. From his first year of grammar school, Leo's 
isses participated in plays that were directed by the 
ins. Upon graduation from grammar school each 
iss performed a play, using the various theatrical 
ills they had been learning for the past eight years. 
Leo received his musical instruction from the priests 
d nuns and, later, from members of the Musicians' 
lion who volunteered with the Mission Church Field 

Band. He joined the Church choir when he was in the 
fourth grade and continued to sing in the choir for 34 
years. He and his brothers each joined the Cadets 
when they turned eleven, graduated to the Fife and 
Drum Corps, and eventually to the Mission Church 
Band. Activities were more restricted for the girls, cen- 
tering in the Guild of Our Lady, a social club which of- 
fered instruction and recreation through literary, mu- 
sical, and dressmaking courses. 

In 191 1, when he was 13 and still in grammar 
school, Leo had his first job. For $2.50 a week he 
helped print the theater programs for B. F. Keith's 
Vaudeville House. It was on the A circuit, the biggest 
in the country, and working there Leo could see all the 
headliners in vaudeville — Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson and 
Eileen Stanley, among others. 

Most of the kids he went to school with started work 
young and often stayed with their first jobs all their 
lives. Many were firemen in the breweries. Others got 
jobs with the city or the MTA. When he graduated 
from Mission Grammar, unlike most of his peers, Leo 
went to Boston College High School in the South End 
and then on to Holy Cross and Boston College. School 
over, Leo worked on the renovation of the Robert 
Breck Brigham Hospital, which the government had 
used as a veteran's facility during World War I and re- 
turned to private control in 1921. In 1923, he went to 
work for the MTA in Charlestown as a structural iron- 
worker. He stayed with the job for 40 years, until he re- 
tired in 1963. In the early years, until he got seniority 
with the union, work was not steady. During slack sea- 
sons Leo worked in various ironwork shops around 
Boston. In 1926, when the parish built the Mission 
High School from funds donated by the parishioners, 
Leo was working at his brother Joseph's shop. Joseph 
was commissioned to make the iron fence around the 
new school, and all the Power brothers helped to build 

Leo married in 1925 and lived with his wife, Julia, 
on Cherokee Street. After one and a half years of mar- 



Maurice Tobin and family in their home, 193d 

age and one child, Julia died. Leo remarried in 1934. 
[e and his second wife, Margaret, moved to Jamaica 
lain for seven years, but returned w ith their five chil- 
ren to Mission Hill and rejoined his brothers and sis- 
ts. They found a home on Francis Street near the 
eter Bent Brigham and have lived on the street for 
/er thirty years. 

During the '30s, '40s and '50s the church remained 
ie center of the Mission Hill community. Involvement 
ith the Mission Church did not isolate the Mission 
ill community from city and state politics, however, 
he Irish had gained control of Boston city govern- 
ent in the first decades of the century, when Leo 
>wer was a young man. The new politics, with its fes- 
^e outdoor rallies and carefully devised local organi- 
tions, captured his imagination. During the mayoral 
iction of 1 92 1, he worked for James Michael Curley, 
10 won a close fight with John Murphy from 

Leo continued working to elect Democrats. When 
2 city councillor from Ward 10, whom he had sup- 
rted in 1925, voted for a Republican for Council 
ssident, Leo decided to run against him. He won the 
ction in 1927, but lost on a recount. Two years later 

supporters spread the work that his opponent had 
len the previous election and he easily won himself 
r eral terms on the Council. He was 31 years old. As a 
y councillor one of his major undertakings was to 
ve streets on Parker Hill "accepted" by the Street 
mmission so that the City would pave the roads and 

out sidewalks and curbstones. He also had the City 
ild a playground on top of the Hill. The Parker Hill 
inch library was just a small store across the street 
m the present location until Leo submitted an order 
the City Council asking the mayor to build a new 

5ut the guts of politics was in party organization 
1 when his tenure on the council ended Leo worked 
h Maurice Tobin, who had served as a state repre- 
tative beginning in 1926. Tobin was born and 

raised in the Mission Parish and in 1937, the first year 
he beat Curley for mayor, a huge rally was staged out- 
side of the Tobin house in Calumet Square. Once in 
office, Tobin appointed Leo Superintendent of Build- 
ings for the City of Boston. When Tobin ran for gover- 
nor in 1945 Leo helped organize the statewide cam- 
paign. He kept up his interest in politics through the 
Second World War, when he returned to ironworking 
to make a living. 

Little changed in Mission Hill for many years. De- 
spite the postwar affluence and the general trend to the 
suburbs, the community was stable and reaping the re- 
wards of the institutions it had built. In September 
1954, Pope Pius XII proclaimed Mission Church a ba- 
silica and dedication ceremonies were held in Decem- 
ber of that year. The Mission Hill Housing Projects 
were erected in 1940 and quickly became assimilated 
into the parish. An extension was added in 1952 but it 
remained apart from the larger community, since it 
was across the street and out of the parish. 

Then, in 1958, the Boston Redevelopment Authority 
announced an interest in building high-rise apartments 
on Huntington Avenue, near the Mission Church. 
What was originally described by the BRA to the rec- 
tor of the church, Father Renahan, as "low-cost mo- 
dern housing," materialized in 1962 as a 24-story lux- 
ury tower with one- and two-bedroom units whose 
rents started at $150 a month. Two other high rental 
high-rises followed. Over 700 people lost their homes 
when the three-family houses were destroyed to make 
room for the new apartments. 

At the same time Harvard University completed 
plans to build an Affiliated Hospital Complex (AHC) 
and began to purchase houses in the Fenwood Road/ 
Francis Street area in 1963. But the community was 
still cohesive and very few of the 1 82 homeowners sold 
to Harvard. Those who did got very good prices for 
their three-deckers and usually remained in their 
apartments as tenants. However, by 1965 the three 
high-rises had replaced a substantial segment of the 


parish population and the recently integrated Mission 
Hill Projects were the source of severe racial tension 
despite peaceable invocations from the church pulpit. 
Families became more w illing to sell to Harvard for the 
even higher prices offered to them. In the late '60s 
Harvard tore down some houses and evicted families, 
renting instead to people who could alford higher 
rents, predominantly students and other transients. 
These two instances of institutional encroachment 
dealt a serious blow to the permanence of the Irish 
community in Mission Hill. 

The homogeneous Irish Catholic community in 
which Leo Power grew up and has lived out most of his 
life barely remains. "The nearest thing to community 
that I know of that's active is the American Legion at 
the Mission Hill Post. The St. Alphonsus Club was the 
greatest men's club in New England. You couldn't get 
15 people today. I remember when you couldn't get in 
the church to Masses. And the St. Alphonsus Hall 
breaks your heart when you go through it. No, I don't 
see anything along the line of the old community that 
I knew." 

One hundred years after the Power family settled 
here, the Mission Hill community is once again in flux. 
Strong pressures from a variety of sources have encour- 
aged residents whose parents and grandparents made a 
community around the Church of Our Lady of Perpet- 
ual Help to leave their homes. Yet the neighborhood 
has not been abandoned; it is attracting new tenants 
and even new homeowners. Despite problems in the 
past few years, Mission Hill remains a close, family- 
oriented community. 

The church has lost its primacy in the neighbor- 
hood, but is still central to many of the old parishion- 
ers. A new community, more ethnically and econom- 
ically diverse, comprised of the original Irish popula- 
tion, and blacks, Spanish, and young working people 
is forming out of a mutual effort to preserve and im- 
prove the neighborhood. Formally, through various 
community-based organizations, and informally, as 

the diverse elements living on and about the Hill me; 
on the streets and around one another's kitchen table 
new life is being breathed into Mission Hill. But tl. 
survival of the neighborhood will depend, finally, upc 
its success in redirecting the energies of the neighborir 
institutions from wanton expansion and land specul; 
tion to cooperation with the community. 

The friction stems from the conflicting needs of tl 
many nearby hospitals and schools, and the residenti, 
neighborhood. The hospitals have always provide 
jobs for vast numbers of Mission Hill residents, as we 
as vital medical care, but recently they also ha v 
caused disruption in the community. Because of ou 
dated and inefficient facilities, the hospitals want 1 
modernize and consolidate in order to provide betti 
health care. Until recently, the medical institutions d: 
not consider the effects of expansion on the Missic 
Hill community, but local opposition has insured con 
munity involvement in future plans. The various pa 
ties involved in the controversy still disagree about tH| 
best ways to improve health care — through expander 
more centralized hospital facilities or through preven 
itive, community-based programs — and about how 1 
regulate institutional expansion in residential neigl 
borhoods. These issues have been priorities for Missio 
Hill residents for over a decade. 

As early as 1961 Mission Hillers banded together i 
an attempt to influence the BRA's plans for the Whi 
ney Street high-rises. The Mission United Neighbo: 
hood Improvement Team (MUNIT) failed to seriou;j 
ly alter the design or costs of the apartment building 
However, in 1964, MUNIT organized a rally of 3,0c 
neighborhood residents, featuring the Mission Churo 
Field Band, at the State House to prevent passage of 
bill that would have authorized an expansion of th j 
Mass. Mental Health Center at the expense of home 
on Fenwood Road. „ 

Residents of the Francis Street/Fenwood Road are I 
were surprised when they received eviction notice I 
from Harvard during the winter of 1968- 1969; som 


'he Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, i()20 

ere determined not to leave their homes. The tenants 
>ined forces with some Harvard student activists who 
new of and opposed the Affiliated Hospital Complex, 
ogether they canvassed the streets and organized the 
oxbury Tenants of Harvard. From its beginnings, 
hen it secured a promise from Harvard Medical 
:hool's Dean Ebert that "no residential demolition 
ill occur until a similar amount of replacement hous- 
ig at comparable rents and located in nearby areas, is 
/ailable for those families to be relocated," RTH has 
iveloped into an assertive community advocate, ac- 
v - ely planning and developing the Mission Park 
partments, unique mixed-income family housing. 
People on the Hill have formed similar coalitions to 
ckle problems of inadequate police protection, poor 
jhting, insufficient recreational facilities for children, 
id the suspension of home delivery and repair ser- 
ces by private companies. In 1969 people determined 
obtain low-cost quality health care for the commu- 
ty formed the Mission Hill Health Movement. The 
■struction of houses by various institutions prompted 
sidents to unite in the three-year-old Back of the Hill 
isociation, which, like RTH, is designing and hoping 
build affordable family dwelling units. Just two 

1( ars ago residents created an elected community body 
rpowered to deal with land-use issues and recognized 

( ' the City, the Mission Hill Planning Commission. 

(l iremost among its concerns has been the threatened 

11 nstruction of the AHC with attendant plans for a 

power plant and parking garage. The unique coalition 
of people who comprise these various neighborhood or- 
ganizations — old Mission Hill family people, a few el- 
derly, and the recently arrived young people — pub- 
lishes the Good News, a monthly paper whose content is 
as varied as the community it serves. 

Mission Hill is a small city neighborhood with about 
15,000 residents. But people who have lived in Mission 
Hill all their lives and people who are just now making 
it their home, are witnessing a rebirth in their commu- 
nity. Mission Hill has a spirit that draws people togeth- 
er and forges bonds among them. This community 
identity has been strong since the Redemptorists first 
built the Mission Church and has so far survived the 
fear and paralysis that elsewhere accompany the urban 
crisis of the 1960s and 1970s. In the pages that follow, 
residents of Mission Hill, young and old, affirm that 
spirit as they relate their memories, their concerns, and 
their hopes for Mission Hill. 

Gertrude Henderson is a warm, kind, grey-haired wom- 
an who has spent her life in Alission Hill. The Mission 
Church is still the center of her life: 

"I was baptized in Mission Church, it's over 70 years 
that I've been here. When we were kids there was no 
Stockwell Street, there was no house here. This was a 
field. There were three fields up top of the Hill and we 
used to call them the Sleigh Field, the Cow Field, the 
Daisy Field. We used to slide down over Parker Hill in 

the winter on the top of our mothers' tin boilers, that 
they used to boil the clothes in on the stove. And then 
Branley's milk concern was there; they must have had 
about 30 or 40 cows. 

"We called Brigham Circle 'the Switch', because they 
used to switch cars there. One car used to go all the 
way out, but one went just to the Switch; they'd turn 
the switch, and then go in town again. There was a belt 
line at Roxbury Crossing. That car would take you all 
around town for five cents. We'd just go in town, 
'round the North Station, and it'd bring us back. 
They'd dump us off at Dudley Street and we had to 
walk home. This was our Sunday's visit, for a nickel. 

"My mother and father came years and years ago. 
They were both from Ireland. My father was a brick- 
layer. My father and mother died when we were very 

Back Bay from Parker Hill Reservoir, 1878 

young. We were four kids. My sister and I were twins i 
we were seventeen when my mother died. We all sep I 
arated. We went to live with different people — aunt $ 
and relatives, until we got married. One brother wen n 
to St. Louis and he married, so he stayed there. But rm | 
other brother lived here in Boston and we stayed to | 
gether. Where we lived wasn't far from each other | 
Our family was very close. 

"This house is 40 years old. It's a big place to be liv m 
ing alone. But the view I have in front is nice. At night « 
the city is lit up and looks just like New York. Vvt \t 
stayed here because I love it. People were moving ou g 
of here because of the class of people that was comim If 
in. But I always figured it this way: we had the shrine' | 
it was a virgin shrine down here in Mission Church' m 
And I always figured that if Roxbury and the Missioi 


Jhurch was good enough for the Blessed Mother's 
ihrine, it was good enough for me." 

?aul McCarthy of Calumet Street used to run a local milk- 
lelivery service, which was started by his father. He is 70 years 
Id and has always lived on Mission Hill. Recently, he lias been 
ictive in the opposition to the Affiliated Hospitals Complex: 
"Oh, we live much better today — if you understand 
vhat I mean. With our modern conveniences and our 
lectric lights and the heated home. Years ago it was a 
lot air furnace or parlor stoves. I don't think I'd want 

go back to the olden days, except for one thing, the 
iolence. When I was a young fella you could go out, 
. alk up the streets at two o'clock in the morning, three 
'clock — nobody bothered you. 

'"The oldtimers were a hardy people, all immigrants, 
"hey knew what hard times were. They didn't expect 
nything for nothing and didn't want anything for 
othing; all they wanted was an opportunity to work, 
rive them a job and don't bother them and let them 
ve in peace and raise their families and they were 

"My family came to this country right after the 
■ivil War, and I had grand uncles that were in the 
ivil War. They had settled in Marlboro. They 
rought my father here. Those days the Civil War vet- 
•ans could almost pick what they wanted. They were 

1 the contracting business. They would come down to 
oston and wait for the boats to come in with the im- 
dgrants. They'd bring them up to Marlboro to work 

the shoe factories. 

"My father went into steam engineering. He picked 
3 experience when he was in Marlboro — contracting, 
■ad building, laying sewers, putting in pipes. My fa- 
er wanted to live near his work and transportation 
as a big problem. That's why he settled down here, 
e figured that if there wasn't work in the city there 
is no work anywhere. And my mother had a cousin 

r. id there were a few old friends here. 

I "Pretty well-to-do class of people lived on Fenwood 

Road, Francis Street. That was high class. Even when 
I was a kid they got big rents there, S35 or S40 a 
month. If a house went up for sale over there it was 
gobbled like that. I had some relatives w ho lived down 
there. We had a house on Fenwood and all the front 
hallways were nothing but oak panelling. And bird's 
eye maple floors. Those floors were a novelty. They 
paid more for the floors. The disadvantage was that 
there was no room between the houses. If those houses 
were built far enough apart, where people could park 
their own car, you wouldn't sell 'em for love or money 
if you owned one. 

"There was a brewery around here. When the brew- 
eries made the beer there was a nice scent, very pleas- 
ant odor. If you had an east wind you'd get it up this 
far. There were beer horses and they had stables and 
the horses were kept immaculate. They'd be brushed 
down every night. You know how kids go for horses — 
we'd brush the leather harness with the brass trim and 
washed the wagon. We'd go up to the Blacksmith's 
shop and see them shoeing the horses. We used to get 
the smell of ether that would be coming from the oper- 
ating room of one of the hospitals once in a while, the 
Robert Bent. After a while all that disappeared." 

John J. Connolly recently retired as Associate Director of 
the Boston Public Library. He is an aging man with a warm 
charm. His fondest memories are of the Branley family herding 
their dairy cows down the hill to graze in a field where the Beth 
Israel Hospital is now. Here he recounts other childhood im- 

"Back in the twenties and the thirties I lived on Os- 
wald Street. In the course of 15 years only one or two 
families moved out. Mission Hill was very quiet — a 
content and neighborly neighborhood. We knew all 
the people who lived in the surrounding area. 

"The center of the lives of the people on the Hill was 
the Mission Church because most of the people were 
Catholics. Mission Hill saw itself as distinct from the 
other side of the Hill, which was Jamaica Plain. The 

dividing line was Parker Hill Avenue. If you lived on 
the other side of the Hill — Fisher Avenue on down — 
the people on our side had little to do with you. 

"Men had their own little businesses. There were 
peddlers and, of course, there were the perpetual visits 
of the ice man. If the ICE card was placed in the win- 
dow he would carry the piece of ice on his back up two 
or three flights of stairs and place it in the icebox. 

"I can recall in the early twenties when the fire ap- 
paratus headquarters was located on Longwood Ave- 
nue at Brookline Avenue. The apparatus was pulled by 
mammoth horses. The drivers sat on top of the ladder 
truck. The horses galloped up Sachem Street up the 
hill, and a man in back threw coal into a great steamer 
to get the steam to pump water. By the time the fire- 
men got to the fire there was enough pressure to pump 
water onto the fire. 

"Elections were a real exciting time of the year. 
There were candidates from both sides of the Hill, as 
Ward 10 covered both sides. The people on the Mission 
Hill side would loyally vote for whoever was running 
for political office on their side. Crowds would gather 
anywhere for a rally where the speakers stood on the 
back of a truck to state their case. 

"People started to move from the Mission Hill area 
when the Great Depression ended. Younger people 
showed a tendency to move away from the neighbor- 
hood when they married and moved to single-family 
houses. I left in 1940, so you see I've been gone for 
quite a while." 

John and Claire Conway are practically a fixture on 
Mission Hill. Conway's Market, which closed just three years 
ago, supplied a lot more than food to its customers and Mrs. 
Conway always had a word for anyone who wanted advice. 

Mr. Conway — "I'll be 81 in June, the 24th, and 
married 53 years the 21st of June. My family came to 
the Hill in April, 1894. They came from Brookline, 
where they had a grocery store. Mother and Father 
took a walk one Sunday over here and down the bot- 

tom of the Hill there was a big sign across Calume 
Street (which wasn't Calumet yet, just a path) 'Parke; 
Hill Reservation.' They took a walk up. There wa: 
only one house there. They were building ours and my 
parents saw that there was going to be a store there 
They liked the house, so they inquired and they founc 
that Tom O'Leary was building it. They got ahold 01 
Tom O'Leary and checked the price of it. People were* 
going to move to the Hill now, they were going to builc 1 
up there now, it would be a nice place for a store. Sor 
they agreed to this price and they got rid of Brookline.' 

Mrs. Conway — "I was born in Somerville, but ]| 
came here when I was two years of age. In fact, Fathei 
Frawley at Mission Church sent for Pa. Pa was th& 
head of the Boston Elevated electricity unit. Fathei 
Frawley wanted to start up the plant here, which hel 
did. All the electricity on Mission Hill was started by 
Pa. He was the only one in Massachusetts with a firsl 
class electrical engineer's license at the time." 

Mr. Conway — "I can tell you a story about the hos-j 
pitals. There's the Robert Brigham and the Peter Brig- 
ham. They left a will that these hospitals were for the 
needy of Roxbury. Peter Hogan got sick and he wen! 
over to the Robert Breck at the top of the Hill. When 
they were letting him out, they handed him a bill, and: 
he raised Cain. He took the bill and he tore it up. 
There was a sign up, 'Left for the needy of Roxbury.': 
And he blasted them out and said, 'if you don't believe- 
me, I'll go in and demand a copy of that will.' Andj 
Peter turned around and walked out." 

Father John Anderson and Sister Alice Katherine, 
grew up on Whitney, Francis and Kempton streets, the oldest 
children in a family of five. Father Anderson left Mission Hill 
for the seminary when he was 13 years old and Sister Alice en-, 
tered the convent at 18. Both have served over 20 years in thq 
Mission Parish. 

FatherJohn Anderson — "I think the relationship 
between the church and the community has changed, 


Ad from the church publication, "The Monthly Messenger,'' c. i8go 

Efl is a luxury 

Within the reach of most every one, but these hard 
times we realize (from the frequent demands made on 
us) that a great many do not have the means to 
possess this luxury. We have given away large 
quantities of tea this winter, and will continue to do 
so until times are better. If the readers of this paper 
know of any one in needy circumstances they can at 
least help them to have a good cup of tea by cutting 
out this page and giving it to some needy one, who, on 
presenting it at our store, will receive a package of tea 
that will invigorate the system and put new life into 


1313 Tremont Street, 



over the years because the complexion of the parish has 

Sister Alice Kathertne — "Until 30 years ago peo- 
ple were permanent residents. Their whole life cen- 
tered around the parish. It didn't matter what activity 
was going on, they were involved." 

Father — "We got involved with family problems. 
There was a man on house duty and he was called 
dow n when anyone came in with a problem. He'd give 
them what advice he could. Many times there were re- 
quests for emergency help, and that was handled 
through the St. Vincent de Paul Society. There were 
marital problems, drinking problems, problems with 
children not going to school. 

"When I was first here in 1945, I was hospital chap- 
lain, and I still said daily Mass in church. I heard con- 
fessions at regular times and gave out communion. I 
would go around to the elderly people in the parish 
once a month and bring them communion." 

Sister — "There is still that close relationship be- 
tween priests and the people. People still come here for 

Father — "We have more transients living in the 
parish now, studying at the Public Health School, in- 
terning in the hospitals, and studying at the various 
universities and nursing schools. They're only here for 
two or three years and they do not develop a close 

Sister — "The church is trying to reach out to all 
these different groups, but there's a bigger turnover 
than there was even ten years ago. There's a complete 
change in the attendance of the grammar school. It's 
one of the best integrated schools in the city of Boston. 
In the grammar school we have Spanish, black, Cu- 
ban, the original Irish, and Chinese kids. We have an 
almost 50-50 population — 50% white and 50% other 
nationalities. We were once an all-white school. 

"In the high school we have 400 students. Many are 
from the area and many are not. Many of their parents 
graduated from Mission High. This year, we found a 


greater appreciation of the high school because of the 
unrest in the public schools. But when you project the 
number of families that are moving out and the resi- 
dential areas of the parish diminishing, you wonder 
how many children will be here ten years from now." 

Sister — "There may be as many residents in the 
parish but there won't be a school population. Take 
the three high-rises. In that area — St. Alphonsus 
Street, Whitney Street — there were easily 200 young- 
sters of school age, even 15 years ago. And the same 
with Francis Street. I think it was the spirit of the Re- 
demptorists and the Sisters of Notre Dame that 
reached out to the people of the parish — that's why 
you got that tremendous loyalty. The priests and nuns 
were wrapped up in the people of the parish, whatever 
they could do for their improvement. That closeness 
went out from the priests to people in the neighbor- 

Tom and Nora Breen serve on the Mission Church Parish 
Council and are active members of many church organizations 
even though they have lived in West Roxbury for the past five 

Tom — "My grandparents came from Ireland back in 
1870. They were married in South Boston. My father 
was born there. When my grandmother became wi- 
dowed they moved to Smith Street in Mission Hill. 
Then my grandmother built the third house to be built 
on Francis Street, the house at number 20. When my 
father married he settled around Egleston Square, but 
when I was a little tyke we lived at 37 Hillside Street. 
When I was about six we moved back into the family 
homestead on Francis Street and some of the family 
lived there until the early 1960s" 

Nora — "My parents came directly to Boston from 
Ireland, and following their marriage, settled on the 
Hill, where I was born. My family, the O'Meary's, 
lived in different apartments in the area before I mar- 
ried. The family was active in the parish for 50 years. 
All my life, I have been active in just about everything 

except the church choir. I met Tom when we wenj 
working at the parish beano parties during the '30s 
We continued our courtship through several seasons o- 
Pilate's Daughter, in which I was the vestal virgin ancj 
Tom an usher-stagehand." 

Tom — "Nora and I got married in 1940 and moved 
to Dorchester because they had just torn down the! 
buildings behind the church to build the Mission HillJ 
Housing Project, we couldn't find a place to live. Il 
broke our hearts to leave. After a year and a half wei| 
found a place up on Parker Hill Terrace. When I came 
out of the service we bought a home on Allegheny 
Street, where we spent 22 years. A few years ago we 
moved out here to West Roxbury. But our ties are sc 
strong that one of us is in the Mission Hill area every 
day of the week, working on parish and community ac- 

"The shrine at Mission Church, the Shrine of Oui 
Lady of Perpetual Help, binds the people of the Hill to- 
gether. Nobody knows the origin of the picture of Oui 
Lady of Perpetual Help. It was brought out for public! 
veneration in the mid-nineteenth century and en- 
trusted to the Redemptorists with the request that they 
spread devotion to Our Lady, which they have done 
all over the world. There were six copies made; one 
came to Boston and was enshrined in Mission Church 

"My own involvement in the parish dates way back 
Fifty years ago when I was in the Mission Grammai 
School I sang in the boys' choir. Through the choir 1 
got active in minstrel shows, plays, and musicals at St 
Alphonsus Hall. In high school I ushered Wednesday; 
in novena services. After World War II we raised fund^ 
for scholarships and athletics for the high school alum-l 
ni association. Nora was a den mother for the Boy 
Scouts and active in the Girl Scouts. 

"All nine of our children have belonged to the banc 
and the Band Parents had a strong organization. 

"About 1 2 years ago I got the idea of having a credit 
union in Mission Church Parish as a source of inexpen 1 
sive financing for people. It's operating now over terj 

Alphonsus Gym, c. igij 

irs. We started with $200, and now we have assets 
aver $100,000. The interest goes to the shareholders 
d all members get free life insurance. 
'I still attend services at the Mission Church. The 
t of the family goes to church out in West Roxbury 

w here the church is scattered with former residents of 
Mission Hill. We always talk about Mission Hill, the 
old parish and the school. We've traveled quite a bit 
around the world in our lifetimes. We've met people 
who know Mission Hill. Whenever you run into such 

l 5 

people, the memory of Mission Hill comes back and 
means more than anything else. I think it's the shrine, 
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the devotion to that. 
What it stands for binds a lot of people." 

Kay Bovaird lives on Iroquois Street, a tree-lined way near 
the top of Parker Hill lined with one- and two- family houses. 
She works hard to support her four children and to keep her 
house up. 

"I've lived on Mission Hill more or less since I was 
born. Roxbury was a segregated neighborhood then, 
not racial-wise, but barrier-wise. We didn't play with 
the kids in the Project, the Project didn't play with 
the kids on the Hill, and the kids from Roxbury 

The cast of Pilate's Daughter, igo_ 

Crossing didn't associate with the boys and girls froi 
the other areas. They called the Hill 'lace-curtai 
Irish' because they thought they were better tha' 
everybody else. It really wasn't that, it was just thc ; 
you stayed in the area where you grew up. 

"The Inner Belt, I-95, that was supposed to come ii 
took over everything down in Roxbury Crossing 
There used to be a theater, the old Prince of the Plaz; 
For a quarter on Saturdays, or 1 5 cents, you could g 
to the movies. On Saturday night it was 50 cents. An I , 
we had some luncheonettes; the Shell, a Waldorf, th 
Monte Carlo Restaurant — it wasn't the run-of-the-mi 
place. Even after I got married I used to take the chile, 
ren there on Sundays for dinner and a movie. Thei 
was Dr. Kael's office, where I worked as a dent; 


issistant for six years when I got out of high school, 
rhere was a five and dime, a shoe store, an army and 
lavy store, a dry goods store, and Hunt's Drug Store. 
Jeyond that, on the corner of what is called New Dud- 
ey Street now, was the Kennedy Store and the Mor- 
gan Memorial. Station Ten used to be there and there 
vere quite a few barrooms in the area. We used to have 
Sharaff 's, where Boston State is. We had a Howard 
ohnson's right at the bottom of St. Alphonsus Street. 
Ve used to have a bowling alley, up at Brigham Circle, 
nd another one on the other side of Roxbury Cross- 
lg. But now the kids have nothing, absolutely noth- 
If ■ 

"Five years ago, when I started to get very active in 
ie community a group of people had already gotten 
jgether in an organization called MUNIT. We were 
ery upset about the high-rises being built down by the 
hurch, the Whitney Complex. And around the time 
TH was formed, in 1969, we organized the Mission 
[ill Parents Association. Mary Fleming and I were co- 
lairmen of the group. We worked with the parents 
nd their children to keep the kids in the area occu- 
ied. We never had more than two or three hundred 
ollars. We had a Halloween party and a Christmas 
arty for the children. The brothers from LaSalette in 
3s\\ ich baked a great big cake for them. We went to 
arker Brothers and negotiatied a deal with them for a 
ttle over a hundred dollars and bought games for ev- 
ybody. The mothers made cupcakes. Mary and I also 
orked with the Park Department to get them to fix up 
le park at the top of the Hill. They finally put the 
irk in after we sat-in at the Mayor's office. 

"I would like to see the community stop having a 
:gative outlook on everything, to say, 'this is our corn- 
unity, we're going to fight for it.' I like to see people 
ho want to stay here. Buying houses, bringing up 
eir families. I'm not wary of newcomers. I think 
e've had an awful lot of nice people move in who 
ive taken an interest in the community. They like it 
:re, they want to do something with it. The newcom- 

ers have been just that little bit of fire that we needed. 
I get mad at people who say, 'they haven't lived here 
that long.' Anyone that's interested enough in the com- 
munity to fight for it has lived here long enough for me. 

"There's something about Mission Hill. Most people 
nowadays don't like getting involved. But people here 
care about you — if you don't come around for a while 
they wonder what happened to you. Even the new peo- 
ple that have moved in. One young man said to me, 'It 
seems to me once you get into Mission Hill, it gets a 
hold on you.' " 

A mother of three children, Mary Kemp embodies the neigh- 
borly spirit of Mission Hill. Around her kitchen table friends 
share food and news of the community. Her deep attachment to 
the church has kept her in Mission Hill, where her children can 
attend Mission Grammar School. 

"My family has been in Mission Hill over a hundred 
years. My children are fourth generation on the Hill. 
My grandmother was born on Parker Street and her 
parents came from Ireland. She went to Charlestown 
when she was first married and decided that she wasn't 
happy there. So Grandma and Grandpa bought a 
house on Hillside Street. They lived on the second floor 
and when my father married, he automatically moved 
into the first floor, where my two brothers and two sis- 
ters were raised. My mother died when I was born, and 
my grandmother just moved us all up to the second 

"I remember my grandmother telling a story about 
this friend of the family. He had a daughter that had 
been crippled since birth. He brought her every 
Wednesday to the Novena and one day she went to the 
shrine on her crutches, put her crutches on the shrine 
and walked away. There was no medical explanation 
for it. 

"When I was in high school, I was an usherette at 
the novenas and we used to get twenty, twenty-five 
thousand people on a Wednesday. The majority of 
children in my generation went to Mission Grammar 


HURRHH for the 17th 

To BlrD AM6RY G^6¥E ••• 


Graqd Spring Butigg 



Saturday, Juijb 17tl/, 1893, 

Tickets, for Adults, 25c, for Children, 15c 

A Grand Parade headed by several companies of the Young Mission Church 
Guards, a Prize Drill, Base-Ball Matches, Races and Popular Sports, Grand Chorus 
of National Songs, by the Girls of the Junior Holy Family. A large dancing-floor 
will be laid and spacious tents erected. 

School and High School. Most of our social activities 
revolved around the highschool. You went to school 
dances, basketball games, football games. The school 
dances were hysterical, because we were brought up in 
a 'co-institutional' highschool, where there was an in- 
visible wall between the boys' half and the girls' half of 
the school, and all of a sudden you had co-ed dances. 
The girls lined up on one side of the hall, the boys on 
the other. 

"Unfortunately I'm the last of the Mohicans on the 
Hill. The rest of my family has migrated to the sub- 
urbs. I get a little static from the older generation to 
*et my children out of here — that it's not a desirable 
place to raise children. But I think it's an excellent 
place to raise children. They get a broader outlook on 
life and they see differences in people and their back- 

"What started this whole area going downhill was 
:he building of the high-rises on Tremont and St. Al- 
^honsus streets. The population in the area where they 
ire now was very close-knit, in three-deckers, and ev- 
erybody knew everybody else. But the BRA tore it 
lown. I understand there was an agreement between 
he church and the builders that they would build 
ome low- or middle-income housing. They didn't live 
ip to their end of the bargain and the apartments were 
o expensive that none of the people could afford to re- 
urn there. And I'm not sure that they would want to. 
They were used to their type of life. A great number of 
>arishioners were put out of the parish because of the 
ligh-rises. There's another thing that's wrong with this 
leighborhood — many absentee landlords. If I could af- 
ard it, I'd buy this building. I don't say that my child- 
en will stay here; they probably won't. But I like the 
amiliarity of it, being able to walk down the street and 
ee things that I've seen all my life. My grandmother 
wasn't involved in the church socially, but she relied 
■n it. It was comforting for her to know it was there. 
x>day, it's kind of scary to think that some day it 

might not be there. If you can look out and see the twin 
spires, everything's all right." 

Bernard and Eileen Fitzgerald are raising the last of 
their seven children in their home on Sunset Street. Family mem- 
bers have always participated in community activities, and Ber- 
nie feels this has had a powerful effect on his children. 

"I was born on Terrace Street and I lived in quite a 
few apartments around the Hill and finally came to 
this house 26 years ago. Growing up was completely 
different in my time. You wouldn't have to notify the 
neighbors that you needed help. Somehow or other the 
word would get out. Maybe it was because the times 
were tough that everybody figured they'd help each 
other. When something tragic would happen to a fam- 
ily down the street, especially a death, the family was 
too busy making arrangements for the funeral. A 
neighbor would come over and take down every cur- 
tain in the house. Another might come and clean the 
whole house and sweep it all out and beat the rugs. An- 
other neighbor would make a batch of bread and an- 
other one might cook up a ham. And before the body 
was laid out in the house the curtains were all back up, 
the house was clean, and there was food on the table. 

"Whenever anybody on this Hill had troubles that 
couldn't be solved, they would go down to the rectory 
and speak to one of the priests. There was an under- 
taker in this area some years ago who said to me, 'I've 
seen a lot of things happen around here, but if it 
weren't for those guys down there on Tremont Street, 
a lot of the people from this area would be in a nut 
house.' So they did have a great effect on the com- 

"The son or daughter of Irish immigrant parents 
couldn't help but realize their parents had come to this 
country because of suffering in the Old Country, be- 
cause of the lack of work and any chances of advance- 
ment over there. It was in their minds that they should 
seek security, which was helpful in some ways, but I 

In ad in "The Monthly Messenger,'" c. i8go 

think the 'land of opportunity' offered more. People 
who lived on Mission Hill worked in a number of 
places, but mostly the men worked in hospitals and for 
the ( !ity of Boston and government, state and federal. 

Graduation from the Mission Church Grammar School, ig. 

Many worked in paper mills at the foot of the Hill, tl 
First National Store, and the breweries. My father wi 
a stationary engineer and fireman in the breweries f 


"But I say about my people that they don't make 
them like that anymore. Especially my mother. My 
mother had to work during the Depression. My father 
was working only two or three days a week just keeping 
:he machinery in shape at the brewery, hoping that 
;ventually the brewery would reopen and he would be 
:here fulltime again. He would bring home $15 a 
,veek. So my mother worked for three families in 
Brookline, two days a week for each family, and 
Drought home more money than he did. She worked 
lix hours a day, raised eight children, took in cousins 
rom Ireland, did all the laundry by hand, all the bak- 
ng, and all the cooking. 

"There were peddlers along the Hill. I can remem- 
ber three. Mike Sigrie and Mike Hannifan — he was a 
listant cousin of mine — and another fellow who was 
[talian. They usually carried a barrel offish with them 
)n Fridays, before they changed the Church Law. 
L.ouis Schneider, the ragman, was always around. It 
leems like Louis was here from the day I was born 
practically until I hit 40. He was up and down the 
itreet, picking up rags or metal. Some people said he 
>wned a string of apartments out on Commonwealth 

"Christmas was the biggest day of the year. At Mis- 
ion Church the midnight Masses upstairs and down- 
tairs were so crowded that they'd have to close the 
loors and keep the people out. The whole back of the 
nain altar was completely enshrouded in Christmas 
rees that went up 25 feet and all of the side altars were 
he same. You could smell the pines in the chapel. On 
ach pillar there were at least four long strings of laur- 
1 hanging down. And loads of wreaths and lots of 
toinsettias. That's all gone, too. 

"Mission Hill is a beautiful place, especially in the 
ummertime. The air is always good up here. It's so ac- 
essible to every place you want to go, no matter where 
ou want to travel, west, east, north, south. It's just a 
;reat place to live." 

Kay and Ann Gallagher live together on Bucknam Street 
on the back of the Hill in the house where they grew up. Kay 
works at Alcoa and Ann, who is younger, teaches elementary 
school at Columbia Point. Both have become involved in their 
neighborhood again after a long lapse. 

Kay — "My family moved to this house in June 1928. 
Jim, the oldest child, had been born the October be- 
fore and I was born the next October. My mother had 
Dad and she had two babies to care for, and then Un- 
cle Pat and Uncle John came the next year, in April, 

Ann— "Around here, everybody worked a couple of 
days a week during the Depression. Mr. Gilligan and 
Mr. Coty worked for the Elevated, so they worked all 
the time. Mr. Baker worked for a foundry a couple of 
days a week. And the breweries opened up just in time 
for Mr. Kelly upstairs to start working. Mr. Bowen, 
who lived on the third floor, was a fisherman. He'd be 
gone all week on the boats. There were many public 
employees; not big jobs, but they managed. That's 
why the people over the Hill say we were 'the people 
that had shoes.' True, but nobody is saying how much 
cardboard was inside of them." 

Kay — "Dad was a welder. He always got sick when 
he worked on galvanized metal — he'd get a terrible fe- 
ver. The only thing Mum could get to break the fever 
was liquor. It was during Prohibition and she'd sneak 
up the street to the bootlegger in the dead of night and 
bring the liquor home, and pour it into him. He'd 
sweat all the next day, but he'd be fine after that. But 
one time, in 1942, he got sick and in a matter of three 
weeks, he just died." 

Ann — "Dad had already registered us at Mission 
High before he got sick and we weren't sure where the 
money was going to come from to pay tuition. Around 
Thanksgiving Mum said, 'Uncle Pat came in and the 
Navy Yard took up a collection for your dad. We have 
enough money so you can go to Mission High.' It was 
like manna from heaven." 


Kay — "Christmas after Dad died was a sad Christ- 
mas. Dad had made a big thing out of Christmas. The 
Christmas the war broke out, when Dad was still alive, 
every window in the house had a red wreath with a 
candle in it hanging from the sash, we had lights in ev- 
ery window. The second Christmas without Dad we 
had blackouts and weren't allowed any lights. The 
money from the Navy Yard had tided us over the first 
Christmas but this Christmas things were tight. My 
mother needed any extra money for food. But the kids 
had to have presents and so Christmas Eve, Mary, the 
sister next to me, and I went to the 'five and dime' on 
Centre Street. We had a dollar to get something for 
Ann and Francie because they were the youngest. 
Mary cried and put on a show for the guy and we got 
two dolls for a dollar. 

"Before Dad died, Mum would get up at 5:30 in the 
morning and make lunch and cook breakfast, usually 
bacon and eggs, and send the men off to work. She had 
different days that she did things — Monday was wash 
day and she probably baked all day Tuesday. Wednes- 
day they always had company because Wednesday was 
novena day. They all went to the Mission Church for 
novena, Wednesday morning at nine o'clock. Then 
Mum might go out for the day. She might go over to 
Dudley Street to Timothy Smith, a department store. 
She did her food shopping right in the neighborhood." 

Kay — "When we were young, we used to play in the 
field across the street. There was very little empty 
space on the back of the Hill then, and the houses were 
especially close on Lawn Street. As far as you could see, 
there were just porches. In winter we did a lot of sled- 
ding. Bucknam Street goes straight up and down the 
Hill, so it was a good slope, and there weren't many 
cars to get in our way. 

"For the last twenty years, Mission Hill residents 
have been frightened out of their minds by urban re- 
newal. The other big scare was when the City started 
with the in-fill business in 1968. They were going to 
take a half-acre of land and put 24 four-bedroom 

apartments on it — overlooking a factory, with no play 
ground, no front, no back. That's immoral! All sub 
sidized — S300 a month but the developer was going t 
make a scad on it." 

Ann — "We received a letter one Thursday, all aboti 
in-fill housing. We went to a public hearing and askej 
a few pertinent questions. There were about 24 zoninj 
regulations that they wanted to be excused from. So wj 
came home and worked Friday and Saturday makin 
phone calls, calling engineers we knew, getting ammi, 
nition. That's how we got involved in the neighboi; 
hood again, because we had really not bothered wit ! 
it for some time. The Ruggles Street Church would lik 
to get rid of their land here and we helped plan somi 
apartments we'd like to see built." 

Kay — "All together there's 25 acres. That's a lot q 
new houses. Our idea is to build, but not anothe 
housing project. John Sharratt, our community archi 
itect, is planning the apartments and Fve said to Johr: 
'when we build housing, why can't we build a famili 
apartment downstairs and two senior citizen apart 1 
ments upstairs? A family which can't afford a mort 
gage could afford to keep a house with two rentals.' W 
want to work it so we have a viable neighborhood witl 
a shopping center and a garage to take the cars off th> 
street. You can't crush people into little spaces and ex 
pect them to be healthy. We do have a lot of land an< 
it can be done well. With backyards. Maybe it's just a 
dream, but a better idea than anything Fve eve 

Hattie Kelton bought her house on Lawn Street when sh\ 
and her family moved to the ''back' of Mission Hill. A blaci 
woman in her forties, Hattie quickly became involved in neigh 
borhood politics and has become very attached to the community 
in the few years she has resided there. 

"Fve lived on the back of the Hill for four years now! 
I lived in Bromley-Heath for 1 7 years before that. Wo 
go to the United Baptist Church on Centre Street. Th< 
children go to Sunday School there, but my church i:i 

he back of Mission Hill and the Highland Spring Brewery where many residents worked, circa i8go 

'eople's Baptist, on Camden Street. The neighbor- 
ood is near my job at the Hennigan School. 
"In 1965 I did a survey around here for Head Start 
nd it was all houses. After that, Lahey and Ruggles 
:arted knocking them down. They talked people into 
dling the houses. There were stores around — on this 
srner there was a store. All down the block along 
leath Street were stores and barrooms. It was like a 
ttle shopping center. 

"There is a black-owned nursing home on Fisher 
venue, the Resthaven. It's been there for years; it's 
a old home, and now it has a new building. It used to 
e a big, old, white house, but it's nice now. It's also 
itegrated now. When I was growing up, people in 
oston put the elderly in it. It was the only black nurs- 
lg home there was. 

"I've always been active. When I lived in the project 
I was in the United Voters' League and here I became 
a member of the Back of the Hill group. The first.thing 
I got involved in was cleaning up vacant lots on Satur- 
days. I like the open fields, but still, I say, maybe one 
day the neighborhood will be built up. And it will be 
an even nicer place to live." 

Chat Gunter moved to Mission Hill eight years ago with a 
group of friends. Since then, he has chosen to make Mission 
Hill a more permanent home, and the barriers between long 
time residents and young people like Chat are dissappearing, 
as the community has become more diverse. 

When I first moved to Mission Hill, in 1967, I lived 
on Eldora Street, a fantastic little elbow street just off 
Hillside. We had a house with three apartments. We 
didn't have too much to do with the older residents 


View of Huntington and Longwood areas from the Mission Church tower, i8y£ 

then. Once though, in the snow, I parked in a place 
that somebody had dug out. The guy hollered at me, 
but after that he and I used to help each other dig our 
parking places whenever there was a snowstorm. 

I left the other side of the Hill and lived down on 
Linden Street, on the other side of Heath Street. Then 
I found a place on Wensley Street and got active in the 
Mission Hill Food Coop. Everyone in the neighbor- 
hood was in the coop, and out of it came organization. 
The Back of the Hill Organizing Committee grew out of 
this. There was active people who had lived here a long 
time and some political types who fit in with the neigh- 
borhood people. This was 1970, 7 1 , and there was a lot 
of energy. There is land that is owned by the Ruggles 
Street Baptist Church and the Lahey Clinic, and be- 
tween the two of them they had destroyed over half the 



neighborhood to build things they never built. The^ 
left a lot of empty space. 

The institutions have full-time people making twen 
ty, thirty thousand dollars a year as planners and de 
velopers and we have to work nights to counterac 
that. And the BRA doesn't speak for us. I think it': 
amazing, given how small a populace we have in tht 
neighborhood, how incredibly well-formulated ou 
ideas and plans are. That has been the central issue ir 
our neighborhood, trying to preserve what is left anc 
make something decent and good for the neighbor- 

Theresa Parks is a cheerful, attractive woman who worh 
at Shea's Cleaners — the hub of the informal network of com- 
munication in the community. She and her husband, Bob, arc 

aders in the new politics of Mission Hill. Here she traces the 
'vclopment of community resistance to the expansion of Har- 
xrd Medical School. 

"I was born in Jamaica Plain. I moved into Mission 
ill when I was five years old. So I went to Mission 
rammar and Mission High and I knew most of the 
:ople. Prior to the time that Harvard started buying 
3 houses in the neighborhood, they had been pri- 
itely owned. A couple would buy a house and then 
hen the children got married one of them would 
ove in on another floor. It was a very close-knit 
:ighborhood and the property was well taken care of. 
nd then Harvard purchased these homes. They 
anted the land to build the Affiliated Hospital; they 
dn't want to be landlords. The property started to go 
>wn and the houses deteriorated rapidly. 
"About five years ago Harvard sent out notices to 
e effect that, 'We're sorry to inform you that we have 
:en buying up the houses to build an Affiliated Hos- 
tal center and you will have to vacate.' There was no 
omise of relocation. I was very upset because I have 
ur children in school and I walk across the street to 
)rk. And my mother lives with me, and she's been in 
e parish for a long time and was very concerned 
'Out moving. I talked to the neighbors and they were 
iset too, but they didn't know what to do about it — 
w do you fight Harvard? Students who knew that 
irvard was planning to build the Hospital Complex 
me out canvassing door to door and spoke with us 
d asked us what we intended to do. The students 
)uld come over on Saturday and we'd go door to 
or and I'd say, 'I'm Mrs. Parks and I live in the 
ighborhood . . . ' 

"I was bound and determined I wasn't going to 
)ve. At first my husband thought we better find a 
ice to live, we certainly couldn't fight Harvard. But 
: convinced him and he ended up being elected pres- 
;nt of the Roxbury Tenants of Harvard, the first and 
ly one. One of the first things the tenants did when 
: organized was to demand that Harvard agree to 

first priority in renting apartments. They would have 
to do some kind of rehab, too. We had a demonstration 
and took Dean Ebert of Harvard Medical on a tour of 
the neighborhood. We showed him what deplorable 
conditions the apartments were in and how they had 
not been taken care of. We called the newspapers and 
the TV stations and got all the publicity out of it that 
we could. And out of that demonstration, rents were 
frozen, Harvard did rehab, put new roofs on if it was 
necessary, put new gutters on, did a little painting. 

"Cardinal Gushing had sold Harvard a 13 1/2-acre 
piece of property on Huntington Avenue, which used 
to be the Good Shepherd Convent, for a million dol- 
lars. They knocked the convent down and they park 
cars in there. Eventually new housing for the commu- 
nity will be built there. We agreed that Kempton 
Street and half of St. Alban's Road would be included 
in what is referred to as the Convent Site, where the 
new housing is going to be built. When we agreed to 
the convent site, we also said that the remaining hous- 
ing needed something done and Harvard agreed to a 
complete rehab without any increase in rent. Which 
was very nice. 

"The neighborhood is still predominantly old resi- 
dents. The people who owned the houses, when they 
sold, often stayed and felt very bad. Different people I 
talked to said, 'I feel funny about coming to the meet- 
ings because I owned my house and I sold.' My answer 
was that people that sold can't be criticized because, 
after all, how many times in a lifetime is somebody go- 
ing to offer you $70,000 for a house? Everybody who 
lives in the area is officially a member of RTH. 

"RTH works with other groups on the Hill. We have 
a Mission Hill Health Movement. The Affiliated Hos- 
pital had to go for a Certificate of Need and people on 
that Board worked around the clock doing all kinds of 
research to stop the hospital from getting it. I think 
when the new housing is built and the old houses are 
fixed up, it'll be really a nice neighborhood where peo- 
ple enjoy living. It wasn't easy and there were times 


when we were really disappointed and thought, is it all 
worthwhile? I must say the irony of the whole thing is 
that Harvard's out to build this great hospital and they 
are putting pressure on families that's hard to deal 
with. It isn't good for your health, believe me." 

Kathy Leonard, Maureen Jelloe, and Katie Har- 
ris are native Mission Hillers, in their twenties. Maureen and 
Katie are sisters; they live with their husbands in the same 
three-decker on Carmel Street. Kathy Leonard lives with her 
family on Hillside Street, in the house her grandfather bought 
in the 1880s. 

Dan Weldon, Kevin Fitzgerald and Charles Mc- 
Carthy grew up together in Mission Hill and all of them 
have strong feelings about staying in the community and build- 
ing its future. Danny has recently bought a home on Eldora 
Street for himself his wife, Judy, and their infant daughter. 
Here all six reminisce about their shared childhood and specu- 
late about the adaptations necessary for the future. 

Danny — "If there is such a thing as being a city kid, 
a city person, I think living on Mission Hill will bring 
it out. Mission Hill has a lot to offer, anywhere from 
getting involved in community theater to local politics, 
raising your family, owning your home, education in 
this city. There was Little League, tag rush in the 
streets, large families — there were thousands of kids 

Kevin — "One of the greatest things about being a 
city kid is your dependence on your imagination. We 
didn't have lots of facilities. We relied on each other's 
friendships. And we could turn an empty house into a 
haunted house, a fortress, a castle — whole days and 
months could revolve around an empty house. Parker 
Hill Avenue, Stockwell Street over to Wait Street, in 
that whole area, you'd have fifty kids playing. You 
could be in alleys, you could be on roofs." 

Maureen — "It was different for girls then. Looking 
back on it now, I think girls were more passive. They 
observed. They sat on the steps and watched the boys 
play. I'm surprised we're not all four hundred pounds 

because all I ever did was sit on somebody's steps c 
hang on the corner." 

Katie — "Friday and Saturday nights when we wei 
in high school all the girls met and all the boys met an 
everyone landed at the Deli at Brigham Circle. Th 
boys would stand where the rotary is and the gir 
would stand near the stores. For three to four hours w B 
just went in and out of the Deli, bought a piece < Hj 
cheesecake and a cup of coffee. Towards the end of til 
evening the boys would walk over and ask the girls llj 
walk home. You walked home, said goodnight, anl 
that was it — until you got an established steady." 

Kevin — "We got our enjoyment, our thrills, in litt 
ways. This guy had an ice and oil truck and on Satu: 
day mornings in the summertime he'd leave aboi 
7 a.m. Some people would get there at five in th 
morning, just to be number one, but by 7 o'clock ther 
would be fifteen, eighteen kids out there. To go out ii 
that truck was like going out on a voyage. It was lik 
going across the world, even though you were only gc 
ing to Jamaica Plain. You'd be lugging blocks of ic I 
and a little oil and all that you got for it was a couple c f 
doughnuts at Elbe's. But to us it was tremendous." 

Kathy — "It was a closed society. Everybody wt 
Catholic and everybody went to parochial schoo 
When I graduated from Mission High there were onl I 
400 kids in the school, 99 kids in my class. It wasn | 
hard to know everybody." 

Maureen — "Most people that lived here were nc | 
only Catholics but were Irish, so you never knew any 
body that was different from you. It was a big chang l 
when you went to college or nursing school or got 1 j 
job, and found that the rest of the world wasn't tfej | 
same." j 

Danny — "You were expected to go to parochn i 
school. It's a part of a tradition, or a heritage of whai | 
it was like to grow up around here. There were alway 
things you looked forward to at certain ages, seeing th; j 
older kids and saying 'I can't wait 'til I'm in the eight 
grade. Because then I'm on top of the pile.' " 

Kevin — "My father said to me once, T go to wor 


ack Bay from Parker Hill Reservoir, igio 

id talk to fellow workers and their son's a doctor, 
eir son's a lawyer and he's making thirty grand, 
hat's wrong with my kids? I send them to college and 
:rnie's a probation officier, Danny wants to work 
instruction, Brian's going to be a nurse, and you're a 
cial worker.' This is what we have to offer in staying 
:re, to build and strengthen our neighborhood. And 
is a matter of life and death in this neighborhood. It's 
matter of life and death to ourselves." 
Kathy — "I think there's hope. People are accepting 
e fact that most urban neighborhoods are going 
rough periods of change, and they are seeking solu- 
>ns. There are many organizations that are working 
i improvement. Maybe they don't enjoy membership 
)m the majority of residents that live here, but people 
io have always lived here are starting to revive the 
ill — even theater. At one time we thought St. Al- 
lonsus Hall was the world capital of theater. Then for 
long time it wasn't used. Suddenly a group revital- 
:d it. People join organizations that stimulates others 
join. It becomes social, you're working together. It's 
t a spirit, like cheering for the football team. 
Danny — "If the City loses its neighborhoods, that's 
s end of us. The city was built up around neighbor- 
ods. It began as a little section downtown. It an- 
xed Southie, it annexed Hyde Park, it annexed the 

town of Roxbury. Now this place is changing. Now 
people are beginning to think about community; com- 
munity power, community brotherhood." 

Maureen — "I love the city: I married someone 
from Mission Hill and I like living here. But sometimes 
I wonder if I'm doing the right thing staying here. I 
have an eight-year old son, Brendan. He's restricted 
because he's been assaulted twice. But I'm happy with 
him being at Mission Grammar. He's in the band, he's 
playing hockey, he's an altar boy, and he used to take 
swimming lessons. There are drawbacks but he's ex- 
posed to a variety of things." 

Kevin — "The spirit of neighborhoods is 'families.' 
Because without families you lose communication. It's 
a tragedy that the first solution to crime, for a family or 
an individual, is to flee. It's not a long-term solution. 
They're only buying time. 

"I think the difference between life and death is that 
living means people speak to one another and have 
something in common; that they share experiences, 
that they work in a theater group together or just say 
'hi' in the street. If everyone decided to leave Mission 
Hill and professional people moved in, more apart- 
ment dwellings were built, and it became more of an 
inner city place, Mission Hill would lose its life and its 
identity and would cease to be Mission Hill." 


Project Staff 

Sari Roboff, writer, assistant project coordinator 
K at i e Kenneally, project coordinator 
Judy Neiswander, copy editor 
Jan Cor ash, photographic editor 
Eugene Wallace, neighborhood coordinator 
Harron Ellen son, director Boston 200 
Michael and Winifred Bixler, typography 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The experiences and insights of many members of the Mission Hill com- 
munity contributed to the making of this history. We w ould like to thank especially the Oral 
History Subcommittee of the Mission Hill Bicentennial Committee: Judy Neiswander, Mary 
Kemp, Wendy Gillenson, and Ann Matranga, and the following participants: Sister Alice Kath- 
erine Anderson, Father John Anderson, Kaye Bovaird, Nora Breen, Tom Breen, John Connolly, 
Claire Conway, John Conway, Bernard Fitzgerald, Kevin Fitzgerald, Mary Fleming, Ann Gal- 
lagher, Kay Gallagher, Chat Gunter, Patricia Harrington, Katie Harris, Gertrude Henderson, 
Father Peter Hines, Maureen Jelloe, Hattie Kelton, Cathy Leonard, Charles McCarthy, Kevin 
McCarthy, Paul McCarthy, Bill Mullins, Kathy Murray (Peter Bent Brigham Hospital), Mar- 
garet O'Brien, Theresa Parks, Leo Power, John Sharratt, and Dan Weldon. 

PHOTO CREDITS: Bob Anderson (Boston Architectural Center, designer of the Neighborhood 
Exhibit), Print Department of the Boston Public Library, Kay and Ann Gallagher, The Mission 
Church Basilica, the New England Baptist Hospital, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and the 
Resthaven Nursing Home. 

SPOXSORS: The Boston 200 Neighborhood History Project was made possible through the support 
of: The Blanchard Foundation, the Godfrey M. Hyams Trust, the Massachusetts Bicentennial 
Commission, Workingmens Co-operative Bank, and the people of the City of Boston. 

Boston enjoys an international reputation as the birthplace of our American 
Revolution. Today, as the nation celebrates its 200th anniversary, that struggle 
for freedom again draws attention to Boston. The heritage of Paul Revere, Sam 
Adams, Faneuil Hall and Bunker Hill still fire our romantic imaginations. 

But a heritage is more than a few great names or places — it is a culture, 
social history and, above all, it is people. Here in Boston, one of our most cher- 
ished traditions is a rich and varied neighborhood life. The history of our neigh- 
borhood communities is a fascinating and genuinely American story — a story 
of proud and ancient peoples and customs, preserved and at the same time 
transformed by the American urban experience. 

So to celebrate our nation's birthday we have undertaken to chronicle 
Boston's neighborhood histories. Compiled largely from the oral accounts of 
living Bostonians, these histories capture in vivid detail the breadth and depth 
of our city's complex past. They remind us of the most important component 
of Boston's heritage — people, which is, after all,what the Bicentennial is all about. 

Kevin H. White, Mayor 

Boston 200